Join 3,434 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Oh Gosh.
January 13, 2014 4:58 PM   Subscribe

The Dissolve (previously, previously) looks at the Coen Brothers' 1996 "homespun Midwestern murder story" Fargo: Masculinity And Mike Yanagita, Keynote: Fargo in Five Quotes, Morality And The Coens
posted by The Whelk (84 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
(utter side note, I could throw up a 5k word essay on the use of house decor as regional class markers in this movie. It's oh so very exact.)
posted by The Whelk at 4:59 PM on January 13 [4 favorites]


I thought the piece on morality was pretty weak; kind of a disorganized hodgepodge (that barely even mentioned Barton Fink, c'mon!).

Phipps' take on Mike Yanagita, on the other hand, was downright revelatory.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:08 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


One nitpick I have with the last piece is that Barton Fink strongly suggests that Barton Fink doesn't actually have the talent he thinks he has. He doesn't so much sell out his gift as realize he hasn't got anything but a box with a head in it.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:12 PM on January 13


FX is filming a Fargo TV series here in Calgary
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 5:15 PM on January 13


Barton Fink strongly suggests that Barton Fink doesn't actually have the talent he thinks he has.

Gosh, I really hope this is my biggest understatement of 2014.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:17 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


I disagree that No Country For Old Men shows Old Testament punishment. Here is crime that can no longer being understood (without putting your soul at hazard). It comes as randomly as a coin toss or is punishment for going back to bring water to the dying man, in Llewelyn's case.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:36 PM on January 13


Pruitt-Igoe: "FX is filming a Fargo TV series here in Calgary"

Oh god no. The Coens aren't involved, are they?

I am a fan of the Coens since Blood Simple and love almost everything they made (though not sure if they are beginning to dilute their work a bit with so many films - I lean towards Kubrick's style of a long time between movies), but I have no desire whatsoever to see any of it adapted for television. The art direction in their work is top-notch and is the major reason I love their work (along with the writing), and I don't know where that comes in with some kind of series. I can't see how it would make Fargo any better, especially this far from the original release.
posted by krinklyfig at 5:55 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


I've only yet read the first link, but it's made me feel better about how I've always felt that a movie that includes so much darkness -- including the wood chipper -- is really, somehow, fundamentally sweet. That's how it's always felt to me, anyway. I don't profess to read many levels down, though.

I also read an interview with the Coen's some years back where they talked about how they wrote Marge's character as one of the bad guys -- someone the audience would hate -- but that Frances McDormand's portrayal of her completely changed that.
posted by mudpuppie at 6:01 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


Yeah, Fargo is just a weird choice for a TV show. Any Coen Bros movie, really - there's no way you're not removing something essential to it in an adaptation. What's Fargo without its specific cast and story and the shots and script it originally had? Might as well just make something standalone that's just heavily inspired by it. Plus, you'd have more freedom doing it that way.
posted by jason_steakums at 6:04 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


Does anyone actually understand the nature of Jerry's financial indiscretion? I've seen the movie maybe a half-dozen times and every time I get a little bit more but I still can't really figure it out.
posted by griphus at 6:09 PM on January 13


I think that he took out loans from GMAC for imaginary cars sold to imaginary people, right?

(Or are you asking why he needed that money to begin with? Because I don't know if that's ever clear.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 6:15 PM on January 13


mudpuppie: "I also read an interview with the Coen's some years back where they talked about how they wrote Marge's character as one of the bad guys -- someone the audience would hate -- but that Frances McDormand's portrayal of her completely changed that."

Wow, really? Hard to imagine her character not providing the moral center, that sort of unshakeable upper midwest perseverance in the face of ridiculously hostile winter weather that makes even the most heinous crime seem relatively minor in comparison. The scenes with Marge and especially together with her husband were the respite from the inhumanity of the crime they investigated. I guess Barton Fink didn't offer much solace from the creeping darkness, no redemption in sight, but I can't imagine Fargo without Frances McDormand playing Marge as the good cop.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:15 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


As much as Jerry really is a weasel, oh man, that scene when he's making that business proposal to his father in law, the moment it dawns on him how out of his depth and naive he is: totally heartbreaking.
posted by jason_steakums at 6:17 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


Without Marge it's just another caper movie.
posted by The Whelk at 6:17 PM on January 13


(It's funny that I've given so much thought to Mike Yanagita but not to the actual financial situation that drives the plot.)

I can't imagine Fargo without Frances McDormand playing Marge as the good cop.

Agreed. I think the idea of a Fargo TV show is silly at first glance, but has a lot of potential. But if there isn't a Marge-like character, then it's going to end up as just another dark antihero-driven cable show that misses what I liked about the original.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 6:19 PM on January 13


( where did I read that Marge is basically the only Coen protagonist who never has thier morals put in danger and remains fundamentally good throughout?)
posted by The Whelk at 6:20 PM on January 13


(Or are you asking why he needed that money to begin with? Because I don't know if that's ever clear.)

Yeah, exactly. There must have been a reason he did the GMAC scam, because it was a shitload of money and clearly no one is living on the high horse. He's also desperate to get Wade's money and he says it's for the deal he brought them, but there's more than enough reason to suspect him of needing it for something else.

My only theory is that Jerry is a straight-up sociopath -- very much on the level of Gaear and Carl -- and plans to leave his family. He doesn't seem to like his wife or kid very much, and Wade despises him with good reason. But that's rather specious.

The obvious answer is that, you're right, we're explicitly not given the motive. And there's lots of reasons for that (e.g. the motive doesn't matter to Marge at the point when she gets on the case so it doesn't matter to us.) But every time I watch it, which is frequently, I feel like I'm just on the cusp of figuring out what Jerry's up to.
posted by griphus at 6:22 PM on January 13 [3 favorites]


Also if they turn Fargo into one of those grim, drab, humorless cable noirs, I will be so mad. There's more than enough of those.
posted by griphus at 6:24 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


Spectre Collie has an essay that's largely a response to the Robinson piece. Like Rustic Etruscan above, it says "The only part of Robinson’s essay that I disagree with completely" is the notion that Barton Fink "sells out".
posted by baf at 6:27 PM on January 13


Mike Yanagita is the Bombadil of Fargo.
posted by Lou Stuells at 6:29 PM on January 13 [12 favorites]


Here's a link to at least a reference of what I mentioned above regarding their intent when writing Marge. Haven't been able to find the whole, real thing yet.
posted by mudpuppie at 6:30 PM on January 13


One of my favorite out-of-left-field moments in The Venture Bros is when suddenly Mike Yanagita is in the show in the form of desperately-obsessed-and-misguided-in-love supervillain Mike Sorayama, same actor and everything.

The thing I love most about Jerry's portrayal is that he's got that thing where you can see the bad choice he's going to make a million miles away and have to just sit there and wait for the painfully slow-mo collision because you know he's never going to make the obvious, less-awful choice in any situation, from his schemes to even basic conversation. It's become an effective formula for cringe comedy characters, probably epitomized by Mark Corrigan from Peep Show, but Jerry is probably the first really effective use of that kind of characterization that I can think of.
posted by jason_steakums at 6:32 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


MCMikeNamara: "Agreed. I think the idea of a Fargo TV show is silly at first glance, but has a lot of potential."

It might not be terrible. But I think it's possible to create outstanding original series like Breaking Bad, or even adaptions like House of Cards, without trying to mine this kind of material that is not even necessary to creating something worthwhile... and besides I want the rest of the world to leave untouched as it is in my precious memories, forever, like the Star Wars trilogy, which only is ever a trilogy in my mind, and everyone knows Han Solo shot first. Which is probably too much to ask, but the retelling of Pink Panther and Psycho were not great, not worth ruining it for a new generation, and that's the more likely direction an adaption of already great work will go.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:38 PM on January 13


The obvious answer is that, you're right, we're explicitly not given the motive. And there's lots of reasons for that (e.g. the motive doesn't matter to Marge at the point when she gets on the case so it doesn't matter to us.) But every time I watch it, which is frequently, I feel like I'm just on the cusp of figuring out what Jerry's up to.

I always figured the parking lot deal and the kidnapping plot are not the first of Jerry's hare-brained schemes. He seems like the kind of guy who sinks every dollar he can scrape up into some sure-thing get-rich-quick plan and has a past littered with failed real-estate deals and penny-stock losses and god knows what else that have left him deeply in debt. I don't see a huge mystery there.
posted by enn at 6:42 PM on January 13 [3 favorites]


If you watch Fargo with the sound turned down and Rick Astley's Whenever You Need Somebody turned up it's as if the movie and the music are completely in sync, it's totally eerie! Try it...
posted by Colonel Panic at 6:42 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


Rustic Etruscan, I'll enjoy watching Barton Fink with that interpretation in mind. I took the notion from it that Barton's talent was authentic, but that to be a gifted artist is not nearly as marketable or useful as being a speedy hack. If anything, it's an albatross around his neck. I have a graphics background though, so a dichotomy between fine and commercial art is one I'm familiar with, so that might inform my POV.
posted by Lou Stuells at 6:45 PM on January 13


FX is filming a Fargo TV series here in Calgary

NO
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:55 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


Another thing I love about Macy's portrayal of Jerry is that when he interacts with his son, he is like an utterly alien thing trying to wrap his mind around the core concepts of human parenting. He makes words and gestures that he's clearly seen before, that are kinda sorta the right things to say and do, but he never really grasps them or feels them. There's something really cold in his heart under the naive doofus facade. Like, if that void inside him where emotions should be wasn't filled up with shame, it very well might be filled with a cold rage and he wouldn't be very different from Gaear.
posted by jason_steakums at 6:56 PM on January 13 [3 favorites]


jason_steakums: "It's become an effective formula for cringe comedy characters, probably epitomized by Mark Corrigan from Peep Show, but Jerry is probably the first really effective use of that kind of characterization that I can think of."

Hitchcock was really good at this kind of thing, psychological horror, the morally ambiguous character who slowly changes or is revealed, and even the good guys are somewhat suspect - everyone has a dark side, even James Stewart, and we're all just a few bad choices away from totally insane behavior, like Walter White in Breaking Bad. I think what's different with the Coens is how long they let the character twist in the wind as their tragic flaws undo them from inside out, as well as how easily they can slip from dark comedy to something else entirely and back again.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:58 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


The Coens are "Executive Producers" of the TV series. And Martin Freeman is in it. (I can't really imagine him with an American accent, but here is a sample)
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 7:01 PM on January 13


he is like an utterly alien thing trying to wrap his mind around the core concepts of human parenting. He makes words and gestures that he's clearly seen before, that are kinda sorta the right things to say and do, but he never really grasps them or feels them.

He used to strike me as a high-functioning guy on the Aspergers spectrum. He understands the surface of how things are supposed to work, and is doing his best to fit in.

And then I remember the scene with the TrueCoat, you betcha, and realize that he is a cold, calculating sociopath, but the problem is he's a really stupid one.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:03 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


(Or are you asking why he needed that money to begin with? Because I don't know if that's ever clear.)

Yeah, exactly. There must have been a reason he did the GMAC scam, because it was a shitload of money and clearly no one is living on the high horse. He's also desperate to get Wade's money and he says it's for the deal he brought them, but there's more than enough reason to suspect him of needing it for something else.


I always took Jerry to be a man of desperately frustrated ambition. His life is not his own - he has the job he has and what money he has because of his father-in-law; whatever he is doing, he's trying to scrape together the capital to show them all that he is capable and can succeed without anyone's help. So I don't think he's done anything horrible prior to the film - he has some scheme in his head that he thinks if he can capitalize, he will be rich beyond anyone's expectations and no longer need the largesse and indulgence of his wife's father.

But I think that's often the case of Coen brother's films - the protagonists and antagonists are often people who've just gotten out of their depth and keep flailing along despite that.
posted by nubs at 7:08 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


With regard to Jerry's motivation, I think that the first couple of paragraphs of the Five Quotes piece get as close to it as you're gonna get. Under the thumb of and beholden to his father-in-law, stuck in a shitty job, not overly fond of his wife and kid and living in a town like Fargo. Combine that sort of angst with a lack of street smarts and an utter lack of moral fibre and you've got your Jerry and his boneheaded schemes..
posted by islander at 7:14 PM on January 13


Also, what nubs said.
posted by islander at 7:15 PM on January 13


He used to strike me as a high-functioning guy on the Aspergers spectrum. He understands the surface of how things are supposed to work, and is doing his best to fit in.

And then I remember the scene with the TrueCoat, you betcha, and realize that he is a cold, calculating sociopath, but the problem is he's a really stupid one.


It's like Jerry only really feels negative emotions, and positive emotions are things to be manipulated or mimicked. Not that he's incapable of feeling anything positive, but he's had all positive emotion crushed out of his life. But he really does still feel the shame and hurt from Wade, and the shame he has for himself. But if he ever actually won for once in his life, I don't know that he'd know how to process it. Wade is probably the most emotionally intense relationship in his life at the point we meet him, and with his wife and son he's just going through the motions. He desperately wants control of his own life, but as long as somebody's in control, even if it's Wade or the kidnappers, he's okay - but the moment all control is lost, he cracks. I'd love to know what was running through his head on his short-lived escape to Bismarck.
posted by jason_steakums at 7:15 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


I also always forget it's a period peice.
posted by The Whelk at 7:15 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


Ooh another thing I love about Marge: there isn't even an ounce of judgement towards the girls that slept with the kidnappers. Not even in a Minnesota Nice way.
posted by jason_steakums at 7:18 PM on January 13 [5 favorites]


jason_steakums, hat's a much more nuanced view. Thank you.

Also everything about (Frances MacDorman as) Marge is just sheer perfection. I spent a few months living in the Midwest way back, which included multiple (and sometimes for a couple weeks at a time) forays up into MN. I swear to god I met Marge there.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:32 PM on January 13


Actually, thinking about Jerry a bit more, there is one perplexing thing about his character: how the everloving fuck did he get some two-bit lowlife to put him in touch with some badder dudes? His hallmarks are naivete and incompetence.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:37 PM on January 13


because it was a shitload of money and clearly no one is living on the high horse.

okay, from my UNWRITTEN ESSAY ON SET DECOR AND FARGO: We're used to seeing people in movies in TV have unrealistically upper-middle class decors, or at least live in places that have been clearly designed. There are actually very few mainstream depictions of actual human American interiors out there (if you want those you go to Youtube Or America's Funniest Home VIdeos.) But all the indoor spaces in Fargo are both very realistic and grounded to the place and period while ALSO being designed to tell us a story and inform the characters.

Jerry's house is expensive. It's by far the largest house we see, with a big all-wood kitchen (with a chopping island!) and tasteful wood-box TV set and little pig statues. This is money. Sure it's mid 80s, uppermidwest professional-class suburbian money - but it's still signaling their money and status.

Compare it to Marge's house - folksy duck statues and homemade paintings, unpainted walls and a TV in the bedroom. Cramped kitchenette with nylon and plastic. These are not rich people or people going for a "look" when picking out chairs. It's all very small-scale and make do. It fits them perfectly, durable, plain, and functional. Nothing to be ashamed of.

Then you have the killers, in their tacky motel rooms and rustic cabin with the old TV and jam-jar juice glasses, putting out cigarettes in a beer bottle. These aren't homes, they're campsites, bottom of the rung, transitory places for shady transitory people. So by their view (and Marge's view) Jerry's family is pretty freaking high on the totem poll, someone they can squeeze money out of.
posted by The Whelk at 7:37 PM on January 13 [13 favorites]


Also I guess you could basically subtitle Fargo as 'The Death of the American Dream,' because chasing that particular dragon seems to be what gets Jerry in trouble. Maybe.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:40 PM on January 13


Looks like she's gonna turn cold tomorrow.
posted by mudpuppie at 7:44 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


how the everloving fuck did he get some two-bit lowlife to put him in touch with some badder dudes?

Shep Proudfoot worked in the dealership garage, right? Jerry knew he was on parole and needed the job. It's exactly the kind of power dynamic Jerry would jump to exploit, like with the trucoat guy. I think it's interesting that Shep put Jerry in touch with Grimsrud, and tells him several times that he only vouched for Grimsrud, not Carl.
posted by lovecrafty at 7:47 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


All of the analysis of Marge makes me really rethink Bell from No Country a lot more, because I never really gave that movie as much of my attention as I gave to most other Coen flicks. Really makes me appreciate it more, because those movies are a lot more similar than I thought, on deeper levels than the superficial cops & murders stuff.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:48 PM on January 13


Speaking of which, how did those two get connected anyway? One's a full on sociopath who just sees obstacles in his way, the other is bizarro-Jerry.

God I wish they'd made a second movie that was the exact mirror of this one: same time frame, but all the events from the bad guys' perspective. Same scenes involving them in the same places.

COENS PLZ
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:53 PM on January 13


No Country

Yeah this made me finally realize that No Country For Old Men isn't actually the same movie as There Will Be Blood and I have only seen the latter.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:56 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


God I wish they'd made a second movie that was the exact mirror of this one: same time frame, but all the events from the bad guys' perspective. Same scenes involving them in the same places.

If they followed Gaear in the cabin while Carl's away getting his face shot, that might get real Lynchian real quick.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:57 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


Sometimes I really wish I could remember a single scene from No Country For Old Men.
posted by The Whelk at 9:02 PM on January 13


I don't think you can even talk about Fargo without talking about No Country for Old Men - particularly Fargo's "here you are, and it's a beautiful day" speech vs. Tommy Lee Jones' framing narration in No Country - in particular the opening speech.

Both films present a world divided into good and evil, and in both films people make the mistake of inviting evil in, because they want the big and easy score it seems to promise. In both cases, once you've invited it across the line, you can't keep it out, and the evil sweeps in and innocent people start to die.

In Fargo, Marge manages to drive evil back into its hole (Fargo? I quite like the take of Fargo as a kind of Mordor-style metaphor for the place where evil dwells, waiting). She solves the case and catches Gaear (sp?) and puts the whole thing to bed. People have suffered and died, but the war has been won, and it's still a beautiful day, and the world Marge and Norm live in, with its duck stamps and a baby on the way, has been protected.

From the very beginning, No Country makes clear that that's not on the table. Bell begins the film caught up in dread because he knows evil well enough to know that it's somehow become stronger than good.

"The crime you see now, it's hard to even take its measure. It's not that I'm afraid of it. I always knew you had to be willing to die to even do this job. But, I don't want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don't understand. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He'd have to say, "O.K., I'll be part of this world."

And he's right. Once evil has been invoked, drawn across from the world where it belongs with its drug gangs and patient, ruthless killers, into the world of innocent working poor and befuddled shopkeepers, Bell can't drive it back the way Marge does in Fargo. There's no "we've got it pretty good." Nobody has it pretty good. There's just fear and darkness and death coming closer.

I swear I think that No Country is in some ways a reaction to the popular idea that Fargo is a funny movie about how Minnesotans are kind of goofy. The laughs and the decision to save the moral world at the end let the bitter truth they were going for slip by, and so with No Country they made damn sure you got it.
posted by Naberius at 9:04 PM on January 13 [10 favorites]


The flaw that Bell has that Marge doesn't, which I think is pretty central to the difference between the themes of the movies, is the one his uncle totally nails him on: vanity. It's too personal for Bell, but for Marge it's just the job that lets her and Norm pay the bills and keep a roof over their heads and raise a child and have it pretty good.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:11 PM on January 13


you say that like it's a bad thing

oh wait i hate david lynch. I think he's the Damien Hirst of the film world; he initially persuaded enough people to buy his bullshit that he was able to get lots more to do so, and his occasional successes are accidental.

So yeah okay that would suck I'm more interested in a scene right before they take the girls to their one room (and hello weird undercurrents in that scene), or the scene where they meet, or the day he got the call that this whole thing was actually going to happen.

I have the feeling slash want to believe that it would all mirror Jerry's misfortunes; dude is terrible at being a bad guy but he keeps trying, and [insert hoodlum fuckup here] somehow ends up in the orbit of a guy who thinks nothing of putting people in a wood chipper.

There's a hell of a story to be told about those two I think. Unfortunately they're now too old to make it work, and god nobody else could do what they did.

Actually with the exception of maybe Wade and whatsisname, rich dad dude, there's not a single role I think that could have been done better by anybody else. Everything about that movie is this amazing web of network effects; everyone and everything interacting with each other seemed to create this striving for perfection. They succeeded. It's like.. playing a perfect Grow game without a walkthrough. Frances was sublime which pushed Coen to direct her a certain way, which got Macy to find a real depth to the character etc and so on.

Sorry these beans sure are tasty

I quite like the take of Fargo as a kind of Mordor-style metaphor for the place where evil dwells, waiting

I'm really reluctant when all the other beans are so tasty, but this one I just don't see at all. There's no sinister undertone to the town, it's just a totally normal small midwest town (Go Bears!) with a man living a life of quiet desperation. I think Fargo-the-town is basically supposed to be Springfield: it's everywhere. Sure, the specific reactions are specifically Midwestern, but this story plays just as well in small town Florida or Massachusetts or New Mexico.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:12 PM on January 13


(and hello weird undercurrents in that scene)

On post: I don't mean weird undercurrents in the 'omg homoeroticism' way. When Carl is looking at Unspellable, it doesn't look like lust. It looks like "Do I measure up? Am I a real man?"

"Have I pleased Daddy?"

Kinda the same way the Jerry treats his father in law. He wants to be successful like FIL, but falls far short. Carl wants to be an at-least-decent hoodlum, and measures himself against Unspellable, in terms of masculinity/manhood/etc, because obviously all badass gangsters are manly men.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:15 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


Does anyone actually understand the nature of Jerry's financial indiscretion? I've seen the movie maybe a half-dozen times and every time I get a little bit more but I still can't really figure it out

This is my interpretation.

Jerry's wife is accustomed to a certain standard of living/ certain spending habits. In her early life, this was facilitated by her father. Jerry is fearful that if he fails to provide his wife with the standard of living she desires, then she will divorce him (note: a divorce also means unemployment for Jerry). Because of the influence Wade has over his daughter, Jerry may be correct in this assessment.

As such, the Lundegaard family purchases a house they cannot afford, cars they cannot afford, etc., and Jerry gets himself into increasingly untenable amounts of debt. He does not make enough money at the car dealership to pay for the lifestyle he has, and if he lets his lifestyle slip, then he will lose his wife and son. Desperation leads Jerry to attempt to "save" his family with increasingly dangerous unethical actions. It's Breaking Bad without the breaking point, or general competence, of Walter White.

I don't think the $750,000 is for a parking lot, I think it is to keep the dealership/ mortgage afloat for just a bit longer.

Also, isn't it obvious how much Jerry hates himself when he fleeces $400 out of the Trucoat guy? He doesn't like screwing over other people the way that Wade does.

tl;dr
Wade is the real Big Bad of the film. Jerry is just an emergent property of living in a world with people like Wade, and the kidnappers are just an emergent property of living in a world with people like Jerry. (This does not justify the actions of Jerry or the kidnappers).
posted by GrumpyDan at 9:16 PM on January 13 [8 favorites]


(I got wade and the son confused)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:18 PM on January 13


The trucoat scene actually makes me like Jerry as a character, rather than hate him the way a lot of people in this thread seem to.
posted by GrumpyDan at 9:19 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


It's Breaking Bad without the breaking point, or general competence, of Walter White.

That's what I was thinking too - Jerry has the same frustrated ambition as Walter, but lacks the specialized knowledge, high intelligence, and ruthlessness of Walter. I don't think he set out to be a criminal - just to find a way to finance his lifestyle and prove to his father-in-law, wife, and himself that he could do it without anyone's help. And once over his head, he cannot plan a way out the way Walter could.
posted by nubs at 9:20 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


I love this scene with Jerry. Such terrific acting.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:21 PM on January 13 [3 favorites]


I don't hate Jerry, I just think the way he deals with his son really colors a lot of his other actions. There's just something about that particular interaction, even knowing (or thinking he knows) that it's all really a ruse and she'll be fine, he can't even begin to know how to comfort his child when he's scared for his mother on any normal level.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:22 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


Sometimes I really wish I could remember a single scene from No Country For Old Men.

I remember No Country most vividly as a series of images, almost in storyboard form. Boots on linoleum. An elderly country store clerk standing at a counter with the fading light of day over his shoulder, a flicker of uncertainty playing over his face. Pick up trucks on a scrubby patch of land. A glass of milk on a coffee table. The right angles of light around a doorway.

Blood Simple is one of the only other movies that lives in my memory this way, and I think in that case it's partly because I've seen the storyboards (in an extra feature on the DVD, and as examples in film criticism or film studies guides) almost as often as I've seen the film.
posted by Elsa at 9:27 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


Good point, I don't think people in this thread "hate" Jerry. I think what I was trying to say is that some people are describing Jerry as a villain, which he is, but he is also a victim.
posted by GrumpyDan at 9:27 PM on January 13


Yeah, he's definitely a victim too. Wade and his own insecurity (and probably more the latter) made him into the guy he was in the film, where all the dorky affability in him is this Minnesota Nice and smiling through the pain that I don't think he believes for one second.

One thing I found really interesting in the first article was this bit: "“We gotta play ball with these guys. You ask Stan Grossman, he’ll tell you the same thing.” Dad can’t even trust his own authority." because Stan Grossman is kind of a vision of what Jerry could be if he had his shit together - riding Wade's coattails a bit, but making it work for him, being smart enough to work with Wade to get ahead and live a good life. So it's interesting to me that Grossman is the name he invokes when failing to deal with his son. I like that Grossman has much more sympathy for Jerry than Wade does and maybe sees a little kinship or a little bit of what could be with Jerry. In that business proposal meeting Stan just gives Jerry a look sometimes that's like "come on, man, grab the rope and pull yourself out!" even if his mouth is chuckling at Jerry's naivety along with Wade and repeating everything the boss man says.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:42 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


I don't remember Wade being villainous or screwing people over. I remember him being derisive toward Jerry and hardheaded in a way that caused problems, but I don't remember him doing anything immoral, exactly. Unless you're talking about the lot deal, where Jerry only gets a finder's fee. But I took that at face value: that it was just the way of doing business for Wade, and Jerry thinking he could use Wade and Stan Grossman as a "bank" was not very well thought out on Jerry's part.
posted by Team of Scientists at 9:46 PM on January 13


Wade didn't screw Jerry over, he just perpetually made it known that Jerry was not and would never be good enough to provide for his daughter and grandson. That plus Jerry's deep insecurity and need to prove that he's in control equals broken Jerry.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:50 PM on January 13


Huh. Just occurred to me that Larry Gopnik in A Serious Man is maybe the parallel to Jerry the way that Bell in No Country is to Marge.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:55 PM on January 13


Well I mean Wade is totally a villain, but in that sort of nebulous "now you see the violence inherent in the system!" way.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:56 PM on January 13 [3 favorites]


The Jerry-Wade dynamic reminds me of Glengarry Glen Ross. The desperate salesmen flailing and falling short contrasted with Alec Baldwin. Although the salesmen in GGR being far more sympathetic.

Regarding Jerry hate, there's one particular scene that tries a viewer's patience for him, to put it mildly. I think it's when Jerry, Wade, and Stan are debating whether or not to involve the police. Stan asks if Scotty is alright, and Jerry says "Oh, yah, jeez, Scotty", suggesting that he hadn't ever even taken Scotty into consideration.

It's not so much the insecurity and the harebrained schemes and the overall selfishness, it's the casual way he is willing to put the lives of his family at risk, and not even in a calculated way -- it just never even occurs to him that they might have a say and wouldn't want this to happen.
posted by Team of Scientists at 10:34 PM on January 13


And I think it's maybe that kind of thinking that drives the whole TruCoat scene. Jerry never considered that he was lying to his customer, or that the customer would be upset. All that ever occurred to Jerry was that he needed a couple hundred dollars added to his commission.

If Jerry had calculated his TruCoat shenanigan, surely he would have been prepared for the backlash from the customer, and would have been able to ride out the outburst with a poker face or escape plan of some sort. But Jerry, not having ever reached the step of considering his customer's reaction, is surprised by the outburst, and instead is just left to sit there, ashamed.
posted by Team of Scientists at 10:39 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


Yeah, how he doesn't consider for a moment what he's putting his wife and son through, how he doesn't consider for a moment, until the other shoe drops, that maybe he's not capable of controlling, and shouldn't trust, the two shady guys he just met who are willing to do this fake kidnapping thing. He has to have these very basic, obvious things explained or demonstrated to him, it's deeper than bumbling idiocy. Same with the business deal with Wade (which, it took me longer than it should have to realize, is a really nice parallel of the deal with Carl & Gaear) - why would Wade give you the profits when he's doing the work? There's so much about Jerry's decisions that two seconds of thinking or feeling would have changed for the better, but his whole being is utterly focused on some fantasy world where he's in control and he doesn't have time for extraneous thinking or feeling. He did once - there had to be something there for Jean to see in him - but he doesn't when we meet him. But I think all the humanity comes crashing back into him when he's being hauled away by the cops screaming, because he finally let go of his fantasy of control when it was shown to him definitively that he never had it, that his last desperate attempt to gain it by fleeing failed.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:56 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


My take on the dynamic is that surely there must have been a time, perhaps 20 years ago by Scotty's age, when Wade ran the dealership in person and Jerry was a comer of a salesman (perhaps admired by Wade for his Trucoat tack-ons). Again, we must assume that at some point Wade considered him an acceptable mate for Jean. Yet they seem never to have bonded emotionally, as father and surrogate son (Stan seems to fulfill that role), and perhaps Wade simply imagined that he could turn over the dealership to Jerry, and he'd succeed in turning himself into a simulacrum of Wade himself. Indeed, I suspect that Jerry was trying in every way to imitate Wade with the GMAC scam, and maybe even emulate something specific the man had used himself -- only successfully. Consider that if he were really watching things he could have nipped the fraud in the bud. So somehow, Jerry was trying to be Wade in every way he imagined he needed to be, but without Wade's broader fiduciary talents. So that's the dark side of Wade for me.

I've also seen readings of the film with an emotionally incestuous interpretation of Wade's horning in on Jerry's family life now that his own wife is dead. So you get Oedipal revenge as a more explicit motivation for Jerry's behavior, and indeed, the kidnapping serves as an abusive recapitulation of (perhaps only how Jerry sees) the Wade-Jean relationship. Gets a little too film studies, though.

And god, yes, that parking lot sequence is unparalleled. I totally get the naturalistic aspects of Jerry's situation vis-a-vis living in the upper Midwest and facing a window-scraping before you can get somewhere (although the thickness of the ice seems to imply a much longer meeting -- but then maybe Wade kept him waiting upstairs, another power play). The opening crane shot from altitude both illustrates Jerry's futility of insignificance in the universe, and simultaneously implies the viewpoint of the gods upstairs (Wade and Stan) in Jerry's perception, which is made explicit right after he throws his tantrum, by one self-aware glance upward. The scene also works as another facet of the social necessities of the Midwest, where passion is improper.

I confess, though, I'd never comprehensively thought through the tropes of masculinity. There's so much of that once you unfold that lens, everything from Wade plopping down in front of Jerry's TV to Shep savagely whipping Carl. Most of the "good" men -- Norm, Deputy Lou -- are notably passive or at least laid back. The most exciteable ones -- Jerry, Mike -- are covering something tragic deep inside. And yet it's interesting that Marge can't see this at first.

On the topic of motivation, and other Coen brothers films, the one that springs to mind for me is Miller's Crossing -- where Tom Reagan does a lot of things, but none of them clearly for money, love, or even friendship and loyalty. In the end I feel that Tom really doesn't know himself ... except that he hates to look silly, like a man chasin' 'is own 'at. This also suggests a deeper and more empathetic reading of someone like Jerry Lundegaard (who does end up looking very literally silly climbing out a window in his underwear).
posted by dhartung at 1:02 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]


(Or are you asking why he needed that money to begin with? Because I don't know if that's ever clear.)
Yeah, exactly. There must have been a reason he did the GMAC scam, because it was a shitload of money and clearly no one is living on the high horse. He's also desperate to get Wade's money and he says it's for the deal he brought them, but there's more than enough reason to suspect him of needing it for something else.


Look up MacGuffin. This is a classic Hitchcock MacGuffin. The loan means nothing. It is the device that the rest of the movie revolves around, but it really has nothing to do with the rest of the film. Which is why we don't really care, at the end, about the disposition of the loan.
posted by Gungho at 7:37 AM on January 14


I think what I was trying to say is that some people are describing Jerry as a villain, which he is, but he is also a victim.

Which, I think, is also one of the signature notes of Coen films. Everyone's a mix of things.
posted by nubs at 7:46 AM on January 14


Wasn't all the car stuff pretty explicitly Jerry trying to cover up the fact that he'd stolen the Ciera to give to Carl and Gaear? I always assumed he thought he'd be able to buy it once he had the ransom money.
posted by kavasa at 7:50 AM on January 14


Also, great essays so far. I loved the reading of the Yamagita scene.
posted by kavasa at 7:52 AM on January 14


One of my favorite touches is the way everyone describes Carl as "a funny-looking guy" to Marge....and she never gets to see him! By the time she catches up to him, he's in the wood chipper.
posted by vitabellosi at 7:58 AM on January 14 [4 favorites]


Indeed, I suspect that Jerry was trying in every way to imitate Wade with the GMAC scam...

See, I always thought it was the opposite: Wade dislikes Jerry because Jerry's methods are so transparently underhanded. In a small town, that Trucoat scam is a guaranteed way to make money now and lose money in the long run. When that guy needs a new car, he's certainly not coming back to the dealership that screwed him.

Wade definitely seems like an on-the-level guy, certainly not the type who would commit insurance fraud to make some extra money; can you even imagine him running the GMAC scam by Stan Grossman? Wade was also perfectly willing to give Jerry a fair finder's fee, whereas you can assume that in the same position Jerry would just take the deal wholly for himself and maybe say "thanks."

I think maybe that's why the line "Jean and Scotty have nothing to worry about" is so biting. Not only is Wade making it clear that his support of the family has nothing to do with Jerry, but also that he clearly thinks Jerry wouldn't be able to make it without Wade. And Jerry tries to prove he can and ends up going to jail, getting his wife and father-in-law killed, and effectively orphaning the son he barely remembers exists.
posted by griphus at 8:00 AM on January 14 [4 favorites]


"And for what? For a little bit of money. There's more to life than a little money, you know. Don'tcha know that? And here ya are, and it's a beautiful day. Well. I just don't understand it."
posted by griphus at 8:10 AM on January 14 [3 favorites]


It's funny to see so many people questioning the importance of the Mike Yanagita conversation, because I always thought it was a really important link in Marge's investigation. As a police officer Marge can tell that Jerry is bullshitting her about something, in the same way that she can tell that Mike is trying to put something over on her emotionally, but because of her own "Minnesota nice" it doesn't occur to her to consider that either one of them is not just bullshitting but in fact telling her The Big Lie. Once she finds out that that's what Mike was doing, she suddenly realizes that Jerry might have been doing it too.

Also, interesting that the masculinity article never gets into the racial issues that surround masculinity in Fargo. Almost everybody in the movie is white of Scandinavian descent, but there are a few signal exceptions -- Mike Yanagita, Shep Proudfoot and Stan Grossman -- and they're all depicted as doing masculinity on a different axis from the other male characters. (See for example the way Stan is totally fine with being a conscious yes-man to Wade when it gets him the life he wants -- his pride isn't bound up with independence from Wade -- whereas Jerry is desperate to demonstrate his independence from Wade even when he ends up shooting himself in the foot thereby, and even Norm is very happy with the sweet, nurturing role he has in his marriage but is pretty invested in public recognition for his mallard. Or the way movie stereotypes of Asian men as weird, passive and unmasculine get combined with "Minnesota nice" in the character of Mike. That's what I thought the essay was going to be about, actually.)
posted by ostro at 9:38 AM on January 14 [6 favorites]


He used to strike me as a high-functioning guy on the Aspergers spectrum. He understands the surface of how things are supposed to work, and is doing his best to fit in.

Recall that song and dance with the customers and the TruCoat ? Asperger's syndrome pretty much deprives you of the ability to do it.

In Kabuki theater, the bad guys are marked by the number of blue stripes on their makeup. One blue line means you're not reliable. Two blue stripes means you're willing to compromise yourself to compensate. Any more blue and you're an out and out villain.

Jerry's a two striper.
posted by ocschwar at 10:16 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]


I disagree that No Country For Old Men shows Old Testament punishment. Here is crime that can no longer being understood (without putting your soul at hazard). It comes as randomly as a coin toss or is punishment for going back to bring water to the dying man, in Llewelyn's case.

Ever read the book of Job?
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 12:36 PM on January 14


Does anyone actually understand the nature of Jerry's financial indiscretion? I've seen the movie maybe a half-dozen times and every time I get a little bit more but I still can't really figure it out.

griphus -- Jerry was selling cars, but never giving the manufacturer their portion of the sale - or paying the manufacturer for the cars on the lot. You don't get to keep cars on your lot without, at some point, paying something to the manufacturer (whether you've sold the car or not).

I went to this movie with my dad. I don't remember why I invited him or why he said yes. I don't think I knew anything about the movie -- but I would routinely travel an hour by car to see anything that was playing at the independent movie theater, and I asked him to go with me.

He LOVED the movie. It is, perhaps, the only movie I've been to with my dad where he didn't fall asleep at some point. Although we don't live in the Midwest, our small town shares more with the midwest than it does with the northeast, and my dad was a small town car dealer! His dealership was owned by a father-in-law/son-in-law combo.

The Coen Brothers nailed it in ways that make my heart hurt.
posted by vitabellosi at 1:18 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]


"griphus -- Jerry was selling cars, but never giving the manufacturer their portion of the sale - or paying the manufacturer for the cars on the lot. You don't get to keep cars on your lot without, at some point, paying something to the manufacturer (whether you've sold the car or not)."

No, that's not what he was doing. As discussed above, what Jerry was doing was defrauding the financing arm of General Motors: General Motors Acceptance Corporation (GMAC). He was falsifying paperwork so that GMAC was loaning money for non-existent vehicles, thus his panic when GMAC called with a query about the vehicle identification numbers.

The Coens may have had this in mind.

I disagree with the idea that Jerry was a sociopath or on the AS or anything like that. I think he was profoundly self-centered, insecure, and kind of dim and this created a tragic potential that was activated in his marriage to Jean and becoming Wade's son-in-law.

His negligence of his son is disturbing, but my sense of Jerry is that he'd long, long before dug himself down into a deeply internal world where he no longer related to his family in any genuine way, but rather only insofar as he was playing a role while inside he seethed with resentment and insecurity.

I don't see him as being exceptional; indeed, a view of him as exceptional in my opinion undercuts the morality of the movie. Gaear is exceptional. Jerry is just weak. Jerry's weakness allows all the best parts of being human to leech out of him, leaving only venality and cowardliness and self-delusion.

Wade isn't Jerry's opposite number, it's Norm.

I think that Wade is a complement to Jerry, the counterpart of a larger narrative of masculine vice. Wade is a sort of toxic role-model for Jerry, but Wade is prideful, willful to the point of foolishness, and self-centered. Wade's concern for his daughter and grandson seems to be more about his own pride in performing his role as paterfamilias, and his insistence on delivering the ransom is similarly about his performing a certain kind of masculinity.

Wade's masculinity has its own collateral damage, too, not the least in acting as an impossible standard by which the Jerrys of the world will inevitably be found wanting.

I also think that the add-on sales of Tru-Coat and such are precisely the kind of thing that Wade expects; this is how dealerships are profitable. And I write this as someone with many years familial knowledge of a "Wade"; my grandmother lived for a decade with a man who had an empire of car dealerships that stretched from Texas to California, all of which began from one initial dealership. Before this, he'd been a rancher. He was tall, handsome, dominated any room he was in, was one of the wealthiest men around, was charming, and was utterly ruthless in business. This is how it works. Wade was not some small-town dealer; he had at least one Twin Cities dealership and owned a lot of real estate.

There's a bit of a codependent relationship between Wade and Jerry. Wade saw Jerry as enough like himself to see Jerry as his daughter's husband — he'd never have allowed Jean to marry some Minneapolis sculptor or something. But at the same time, Wade would never tolerate another alpha male within his immediate family. Jerry was doomed to be diminished in his marriage to Jean, but he couldn't resist it because in his mind, it was his opportunity to become more like Wade.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:32 PM on January 14 [10 favorites]


Spot on, Ivan.

And my own viewpoint of the business environment here in "Wisconsin nice" territory is that many of the more successful operators in town have at least some shadiness, and nearly all are imperious in that they expect their will to be carried out, their motives above reproach, and their decisions unquestioned. (We're actually going through a proposal right now where a guy has amassed 1200 acres of farmland and is attempting to strong-arm it all into annexation so that he can build a business park -- this despite sustainable development models being built into state law. We had another guy, a real businessman-of-the-year type, who before the city could even *discuss* the proposed historic preservation rules, tore down a building because "my partners didn't want a building in an historic district." To them, we're all Jerry.) You may, if you want, see this is a local recapitulation of the "job creators" rhetoric at the national level. It seems to me that part of the point of the film is exposing this potentially ruthless underbelly.
posted by dhartung at 4:10 PM on January 14 [4 favorites]


I also think that the add-on sales of Tru-Coat and such are precisely the kind of thing that Wade expects;

I had this interpretation too. Jerry does not have the kind of financial troubles that can be solved by an extra $400 (minus the cost from the manufacturer), but I can easily imagine a conversation where Wade explains to Jerry that the reason the dealership isn't profitable enough is that he isn't up-selling enough Trucoats, and if Trucoat sales don't pick up, then John [Scandinavian]-son will be the new Executive Sales Manager.
posted by GrumpyDan at 6:25 PM on January 14 [2 favorites]


I respected the Marge character until she said "all for a little money". Tell it to Wall St.
posted by telstar at 9:44 PM on January 14


« Older "It’s 1999. Popular search engines include Yahoo! ...  |  Who better to document many ol... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments